2013 has been another exceptional year of great music. It was the year that saw Americana and indie folk become permanent fixtures of radio stations across North America, retro sounds of the ’60s and ’70s be integrated in all music genres, EDM diversify beyond the whimsical electronic beats, and more and more bands experimenting with dreamy synth-pop and ambient textures and tones.
In recognition of this great year, we, Rich and I, have created a list of our 25 favourite albums of 2013. Now, this isn’t a top-25 list – just a list of albums that we have immensely enjoyed. We don’t think we’re qualified to say what albums were better than others or to anoint a #1 album of the year. Heck, while we have listened to a lot of music and went to a lot of concerts, we haven’t listened to everything produced this year, so how could we say this album is the best of the year? We can say, though, what albums were our favourites and ones we played over and over again (and still do).
But before we release the list, we wanted to acknowledge a lot of the great albums we left out: B. Hamilton (Everything I Own is Broken), Bear Mountain (XO), Blood Orange (Cupid Deluxe), Foxygen (We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic), Julianna Barwick (Nepenthe), Laura Veirs (Warp and Weft), Rathborne (Soft), Shelby Earl (Swift Arrows), Wolf People (Fain), Yeah Yeah Yeahs (Mosquito), Young Galaxy (Ultramarine)… And there are many, many more. If you ask us tomorrow to produce a list, these albums likely would be on it.
So what’s left? The list starts today with the opening five, and we’ll add another five each day of this week, arranged alphabetically. We hope you enjoy our list.
ARCADE FIRE – REFLEKTOR
Arcade Fire is undoubtedly the biggest independent band in the world. The current band consists of husband and wife Win Butler and Régine Chassagne, Richard Reed Parry, William Butler, Tim Kingsbury, Jeremy Gara, Sarah Neufeld, Owen Pallet (who has been touring with the band once again), and percussionists Diol Edmond and Tiwill Duprate. With their fourth LP, Reflektor, and under the guidance of LCD Soundsystem mastermind, James Murphy, the Montreal-based multi-instrumentalists have released a roaring, energetic, dance-pop album, highlighted by standout tracks like “Afterlife”, “Reflecktor”, and the roaring “Joan of Arc”. However, there are also songs like “We Exist”, which are familiar of past AF efforts – subtle grooves and thoughtful lyrics.
While some have called Reflektor Arcade Fire’s Achtung Baby! (and there are similarities), others were critical in the move towards an electronic-dance-pop sound. However, people should hardly be surprised by the band’s direction, as their previous album, The Suburbs, gave signals of where the band was headed. And while the album isn’t as anthemic as the band’s debut LP, Funeral, as thought-provoking as Neon Bible, or as cohesive as The Suburbs, what Reflektor does is masterfully merge the various influences and sounds of Arcade Fire’s nearly twelve years as a band. It is an album that gives nod to the band’s past while positioning them for continued success and to be one of the most influential bands in music today. ~~~ Ben
ARCTIC MONKEYS – AM
Through their first ten years as a band and four LPs, English band Arctic Monkeys – comprising of Alex Turner, Jamie Cook, Matt Helders, and Nick O’Malley – made rock music that was danceable and to be heard in bars and discos. While their first two albums were huge critical and commercial hits, the band’s third and fourth albums, Humbug and Suck It and See, respectively, did not fair as well, both with critics and fans. Were fans expecting more of the danceable indie rock or more of a progression with their music, in particularly writing about something else other than nights out on the town and hooking up with girls?
With AM, the Arctic Monkeys’s fifth LP returned the band to the top of the charts and received several stirring reviews from critics. Unlike its predecessors, AM is a darker, more brooding, bass-heavy album that has influences across various genres – ’80s rock, current garage rock, and could be mistaken for a Danger Mouse (it was actually produced by longtime collaborator by James Moore and co-produced by Ross Orton). There are still some dance-oriented songs, such as “I Want It All” and “Snap Out of It”, but songs like “Arabella”, “Do I Wanna Know?”, “R U Mine?”, “One for the Road”, and “Fireside” are the standouts on this terrific album. Even the subtle “Mad Sounds” is excellent and further demonstrates that the Arctic Monkeys have entered a new phase in their maturation as a top-grossing band. ~~~ Ben
THE BELLE GAME – RITUAL TRADITION HABIT
The Belle Game’s debut LP, Ritual Tradition Habit, is one of the earliest albums of 2013 that is on our list, and, as such, it likely has been overlooked by many. However, this may shortly change after an extensive and successful tour that saw the band play at the CMJ Music Marathon and David Lynch’s Silencio club in Paris.
The Vancouver-based band – comprised of Adam Nanji, Andrea Lo, Alex Andrew, Katrina Jones, and Rob Chursinoff – describes itself as a dark pop, orchestral band. And with influences ranging from Siouxsie and the Banshees to Local Natives to Florence + The Machine, the description is apt and the album is like a cinematic journey. From the show-stopping “Wait Up for You” to the rapturous “River” to the groovy”Wasted Light” and “Blame Fiction”, the listener is taken on a ride of emotions for 42 minutes.
As the band discussed with me back in October (interview with The Belle Game), the album was two years of stops and starts and lots of blood, sweat, and tears, but the end product is one that has The Belle Game on the verge of indie stardom. ~~~Ben
CLUTCH – EARTH ROCKER
In 2013, Germantown, Maryland hard rockers Clutch returned with their tenth full-length studio record, Earth Rocker, their first since 2009’s Strange Cousins From The West. This album is everything Clutch fans wanted from them and more. It’s a bit heavier and less bluesy than their last few albums, and that’s not a bad thing. Singer Neil Fallon’s energy can be felt through the speakers as JP Gaster, Tim Sult, and Dan Maines lay down some bona fide rock and roll grooves. In my opinion, this record is their best since 2004’s Blast Tyrant. Tracks like “Crucial Velocity”, “Oh, Isabella”, and “Unto The Breach” are hard hitting rock and roll songs with that distinctive Clutch style. Clutch’s output has been so consistent over the last 15 years, so it’s no surprise their latest makes this list.
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about some amazing head-banging music, and this year’s Earth Rocker has been my go-to rock-out album. 2013 has been a strange year for Neil Fallon and crew. While touring in support of their new record, Fallon required spinal surgery, brought on by 20+ years of being one of the best rock n’ roll frontmen in the game. After a brief stint on the “rock ‘n roll disabled list” and a few re-scheduled shows later, Clutch are back to Earth Rockin’ and are going to continue touring in support of Earth Rocker well into 2014. ~~~Rich
COURTNEY BARNETT – THE DOUBLE EP: A SEA OF SPLIT PEAS
It’s been a whirlwind ride for Melbourne native Courtney Barnett. In less than the two years, the 25-year singer-songwriter started her own record label, Milk! Records, released two EPs and then released a double EP (wouldn’t that be an LP?). Her witticism and storytelling have won over fans and critics across the globe. She was highlighted by multiple media sights as a “must-see” artist at the CMJ Marathon. Major publications, including Rolling Stone and NME, have listed the humorous and lyrical genius, “Avant Gardener”, on their best songs of 2013 lists. Other standout tracks include “History Eraser”, “Canned Tomatoes (Whole)”, and “Out of the Woodwork”.
Her conversationalist style and songwriting bring recollections of a young Bob Dylan. Her understated humor resembles Liz Phair. Writing music that is poetic is akin to Thurston Moore and Gillian Welch. Despite the accolades and the acclaim, Barnett remains humble, often engaging on social media with her newfound fans and followers. However, the challenge for Barnett will be the albums to come, but her down-to-earth personality and witty personality will likely see her build on her success and popularity well beyond The Double EP. ~~~Ben
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